Mar 12, 2012

Review: A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark


A Parliament of Spies: A Mystery by Cassandra Clark
Minotaur Books, January 31, 2012
320p hb $25.99
ISBN 0312595743
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
Review originally written for Historical Novels Review Magazine
Burton Book Review Rating:Three stars

Description:
All the danger and intrigue of 14th-century England spring to life in this "compelling" (Publishers Weekly) series about the brave, incorruptible Abbess of Meaux.
Abbess Hildegard may consider herself  “just a nun with no useful skills or connections,” yet her loyalty and intelligence have brought her to the attention of King Richard II himself—not the safest place to be, when the king has enemies on all sides. As Hildegard wrestles with her role as a spy in the parliament that is hastily gathering at Westminster, Cassandra Clark shows us the human side of history, giving readers new reason to follow Publishers Weekly’s rallying cry: “Medievalists rejoice!”


This fourth installment featuring Abbess Hildegard is a historical mystery set against the tumultuous times during the reign of Richard II in the 14th century. The Abbess of Meaux series focuses on Hildegard and some of her loyal friends as they try to uncover various treasonous and murderous plots. The mistrust between the barons and the King are emphasized as Hildegard investigates the mysterious deaths that occur around Archbishop Neville’s retinue. The Archbishop trusts Hildegard with secrets and relics as she progresses through England looking over her shoulder for her husband who was once declared dead.

While there certainly could be interesting history to Hildegard’s character, newcomers to the series are left wondering who exactly she is. While one would believe the term “abbess” as referring to a devout person, the actions of Hildegard do not represent the trait although her thoughts portray her doubts of faith. The dramatic times of unrest in which Henry Bolingbroke made a name for himself were downplayed enough to make the entire story appear dull and lackluster, as the connections of the commoners and the nobles very slowly unraveled. The tone of the book suggests well researched material, but the lack of empathy for the characters makes it a tedious read and the generalization of the politics and characters did not live up to the story’s full potential. The novel is best suited for those readers who have introduced themselves to Hildegard with one of the previous works by Cassandra Clark, with a prerequisite of knowledge of the political machinations among the factions surrounding Richard II’s courtiers.